It Came From The Water

26 09 2012

There’s probably no better way to start an argument in America than to bring up evolution. Regardless of where you stand on this topic, one thing’s certain: the resulting display of emotions and rhetoric will take on the appearance of de-evolution.

But if we start talking about the evolution of marketing, and specifically in the digital era, then everyone will step to the same side. There’s just no debating that the field has come a long way in a short period of time.

The crazy part is that many of the things we use today actually had their start…well, a relatively long time ago. The first SMS message was sent 18 years ago; the first QR code came that same year. And Friendster? Who remembers that? Well, it was a precursor to everything we now know in the Facebook and Twitter era. Think of it as the Neanderthal social media site.

Another way for me to look at the Infographic is that I have been married precisely one year longer than the earliest innovation pictured. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but I do know that both my wife and I, and all of this high-tech marketing, have evolved significantly. Some memorable things, some not so memorable.

Yeah, but still part of the story we (and marketers) will tell grandkids one day.

Since I toil in this field on a daily basis, I am frequently asked where I think it is all going. Of course, if I had the answer to that question, I probably would not be sitting here in an office ensconced in the ivory tower of academe. I’d be in California hustling up venture capital funds. But I am still willing to give it my best shot. Heck, it might make for a good comedy sketch someday.

So here goes.

I see a day coming very soon in which we will all have televisions connected to the internet, whether it be by Roky, Apple TV, Google TV or whatever. The device won’t matter as much as that they are integrated.

We will also watch these TVs with one or two other screens (phones and/or tablets) in our hands or only inches away. We will interact with network- or show-specific apps while we are watching the shows, tweeting and Facebooking all the while, and engaging with programming in ways never before imagined possible.

And we will then be able to shop during the show. Smart remotes or mobile apps will allow us to point and click at anything we see in a scene. In fact, each and every scene will double as a showroom, which means that paid product placement will be the norm. Nothing will be left to chance. And while paid placements like these date all the way back to the 50s, at least now we will be able to connect the dots and buy it. Right here. Right now. On impulse.

Virtually everything we do will have the possibility of it being broadcast to our legions of fans and friends on the social graph, whichever part(s) we use. I am already seeing this in small bits and pieces today. As part of my track record at, I now get push notifications at the beginning of Survivor and How I Met Your Mother, telling me how many people have checked into those shows.

And the message is, “Hey Nick! Don’t be left behind!”

Which is, I suppose, an important part of evolution. No one wants to be left behind, while everyone else is evolving. Shedding the vestigial dorsal fins of the analog era. Reaching farther. Growing the long legs needed to leap farther into the future.

Yeah, count me in. I kind of like this stuff. I like where we’re headed. And I like to think I fit in. Swimmingly, of course.

Dr “(d)Evo” Gerlich

Conversion Factor

26 09 2012

Just when you think you have all this futurecasting under control, social media presence cemented, and mobile devices charged and ready to go, along comes a report that says that less than 1% of online sales are influenced by social media.

Gulp. How can that be?

It is admittedly very difficult to track such influence, regardless of the source. While the study examined 77,000 online transactions during early April 2012, it had to rely on sophisticated tracking the grabs click-throughs like where the shopper came from immediately prior to the purchase. The study concludes by recomending “traditional online marketing tactics” be relied upon more than social media.

First of all, allow me a brief chuckle while I process the words “traditional” and “online” in the same sentence. That’s another way of saying organic and paid search, as well as email. Email? Who does email anymore?

My, we have come a long way, baby. How many years has it been since Amazon opened? (It was 17 years ago, in case you didn’t know.)

But what the study does not begin to include is the cumulative effect of consumers having been exposed to ads, wherever they may be. Older “traditional” media are likewise not included (how could one begin to tabulate whether the shopper just put down his Sunday newspaper?), nor have we included the soon-to-be-introduced concept of live television shopping (see it, click it, buy it). And, of course, nor does it include seeing all those pesky ads down the right-hand pane in Facebook, the images on the corporate Instagram account, the cool pics and information available on the company Pinterest page, or the last month’s worth of branded tweets.

In other words, it was a noble effort to understand online buyer behavior, but there’s just too much else going on that we cannot begin to think in isolation. Search (both organic and paid) may still reflect a high degree of consumer purposiveness (after all, you were Googling it, right?). Website traffic may still be driven by shoppers seeing your URL plastered somewhere. But so, too, are consumers driven to your social media sites.

If anything, the high road is one paved with a durable macadam of old and new, and everything in between.

Which, of course, is another way of saying “everything in moderation.” Don’t put all of your advertising eggs in one electronic basket, or you might miss the sale. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about converting people, getting them to become your customer, and keeping them coming back for more. Studies like this one need to be viewed through the proper lens. And when you do, you will see that the futurecast may be complicated, but with proper planning you really can dress for this weather.

Dr “View Cart” Gerlich

Right Here, Right Now

26 09 2012

For the last several years, I have shared futurecast videos with my students. Yeah, sometimes they are a little farfetched, but then again, so were The Jetsons. Still, they give us a snapshot of where we are right now, and hint at where things appear to be headed. These futurecasts are a lot like the 6-10 day weather outlook: the closer you are to today, the more likely you are to make a good prediction. But once you get out a week and a half, your guess is as good as mine.

For what it’s worth, then, share this video (which my student Julia Greif shared with me this morning…so appropriately, I might add…via Facebook:

While this one is not perfect, it does make some very valid claims…claims that no business can afford to ignore. Like I told my students 15 years ago, the question was whether your business would have a website. No, the question was when. And now, the questions is not whether your business will have a presence on social media. Instead, it is when and how much. Or, as the video queries, how well you do it.

Which is another way of saying that the train has left the station, but if you run fast enough, you might be able to hop on.

I recall futurists saying similar such things some 20 years ago when email was just starting to take off, that the world would begin to look like it currently does. I also embed a rather somber video (with schmaltzy late-60s jazz soundbed) in my Evo Marketing class in which future shopping is foretold from the view of 1969. One look at the gigantic computers and clunky connections is good for a quick laugh, but they actually hit the nail kind of on the head. OK, maybe a glancing blow, but they got most of it right. We are buying more and more of our stuff online without having to venture out to stores.

The moral to the story? Pay attention to folks in the middle of the fray, for they have the best view of the crystal ball. They may not own the crystal ball, but who else is more qualified to predict what is coming down the pike? Who else would you trust to draw out the implications of all that is happening today?

But what do I know. I’m just the guy who teaches the class.

Dr “Let’s Get Sociable” Gerlich

Season’s Eatings

24 09 2012

It must be rough selling seasonal foods. I mean, things are rosy for a few weeks or months, and then you slip into relative obscurity.

Think about it. Turkeys are consumed primarily at Thanksgiving and at Christmas. Egg nog (thank God) is pretty much a Christmas holiday thing. Ham is associated with Easter. And pumpkins? Well, we’ll be nice and given them the last quarter of the year.

It’s up to the marketing folks to help convince consumers that they should really be eating these fine items all year long. It’s also little different for foods associated with specific times of the day. I remember when, as a kid, my family would live dangerously and have scrambled eggs and pancakes for Friday night dinner. Breakfast for dinner? Are you crazy?

Similar problems plague things like grapefruit juice, sausages and hash browns. Those are morning foods, didn’t you know?

Savvy marketers, though, have occasionally worked miracles, erasing seasonal or time-specific consumption practices. Take pumpkins, for example. Some are speculating that pumpkins are the new bacon.

Of course, that kind of talk is sacrilege to bacon fans (which is another product to overcome its time-bound slot). Heck, if the folks at Peeps can do it (did you know they have Peeps for just about every holiday now?), so can the Pumpkin Growers’ Association (I just made that part up). And, truth be known, I see it happening.

In addition to all the seasonal brews available right now (I had a Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale the other night), which stretch the ways that pumpkins can be used, I have recently found myself adding pumpkin seeds to my deli sandwiches downstairs at the Quiznos, as well as delighting in the pumpkin-stuffed ravioli at Amarillo’s Sava restaurant, a new Italian eatery along I-40. I hope that I can continue to consume these two delicacies throughout the year, as they are delicious. Let me tell you about the ravioli. Oh my God, it was scrumptious, bathed in a brown sugar butter sauce. It all melted in my mouth.

Wait. Focus, Nick. Focus. Focus. Write your blog. Exhale…

Alright, I’m back.

It really matters not that a food product is only grown seasonally, as there are worldwide sources for just about every food grown, as well as packaging and canning options that allow for easy purchase, storage and usage. The hard part is just getting people past autumn (in the case of pumpkins).

Now I realize that I am treading on the thin ice of breaking with tradition, but this is, after all, 2012. We are no longer bound to seasons. We buy strawberries in January because they are available in Florida. We eat Florida blueberries in March, their tomatoes in December, and eggplant in October. We also eat nectarines, plums and peaches from Chile throughout our winter (their summer).

If consumers can get beyond the harvest aspect of pumpkins, then I suspect we will see many more farmers growing this space- and water-intensive crop. After all, size in this crop is the stuff of county fair lore. They win prizes. And then you can grind them up and eat them.

Or make beer. Sprinkle seeds on a sandwich. Or stuff into ravioli. Because, while pumpkin may not quite have the same tasty allure as does bacon, it’s not bad. And I could totally dig eating and drinking them all year long. Heck, it’s got to be one of the most versatile foods around. What else could you carve into a ghoulish face, but then turn around and eat or drink later?

Yeah, even bacon doesn’t measure up on that count.

Dr “Pie R-Squared” Gerlich

Gear And Hoping In Las Vegas

22 09 2012

I love Las Vegas. I get out there as often as I can, sometimes as much as six times in one year. I have made it my business to find reasons to go to Vegas. Conferences. Research projects. Vacations. Whatever it takes, the allure of the bright lights is irresistible. Which probably explains why I am headed back out in a couple of weeks for two conferences and and to lead a student research project. I really ought to just get a condo out there.

I’ve been hopelessly hooked for 20 years, and can’t see things changing. I’m a fool for the city.

And apparently, so is Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos! Shoes. Hsieh (pronounced “shay”), whose company is now owned by Amazon yet claims the Vegas area as its home, has high hopes of turning Sin City into a tech start-up mecca.

Hell, if Bugsy Siegel could transform the barren Vegas Valley into a gambling magnet, why not? The sky’s the limit. Winner take all.

It’s going to take more than just optimism, though. Hsieh envisions turning the old downtown area into this living/working center for tech and the arts. For those of you who have been, downtown Vegas is now known as the Fremont Street Experience, a rather recent attempt to revive an otherwise crime-ridden area into an alternative to the hustle and bustle of the Strip a few miles to the south. But for those who have accidentally ventured east on Fremont, you know that this is no quaint suburban neighborhood. I was scared to death there last Thanksgiving while on an 8am photoshoot of old motels and their signs. It’s kind of like waking up on the set of Breaking Bad.

Yeah, he’s got a lot of work to do, but with $350 million of his own bank already committed, the project has the seed capital it needs to become reality.

You have to give Hsieh credit. He is to shoes what Jeff Bezos and Amazon are to books. In fact, were my research partner to awaken one morning in Zappos!’ warehouse, she would swear she had stumbled on her high heels and gone to heaven. It also helps explain why Bezos bought him out.

Zappos! is already quite comfortable in its desert environs, and its commitment to the community is readily apparent when you notice it practically owns the 15 freeway with its signs every single mile indicating that the roadway is being kept clean by the company. Hsieh has done an excellent job endearing himself to the community, and wants to see it prosper. The uphill battle, though, is going to more difficult than selling people another pair of shoes. No, this time he needs to sell an entire city, one known more for gambling and debauchery than it is innovation.

But if anyone can make this happen, Hsieh can. If anything, shoes are one of the most challenging of clothing items to sell online. Every foot is different, and it takes walking at least a few feet before you know if the shoe fits. His model of customer service is unparalleled, promising no-questions-asked free returns if that shoe doesn’t exactly fit. It remains to be seen whether Hsieh will offer the same level of service to companies for whom Las Vegas doesn’t fit like a cozy pair of Bruno Maglis, but I have a hunch he has an insole or ankle pad to make it fit like a glove.

Just be sure you don’t cross Las Vegas Boulevard and walk east. Otherwise, you may need a good pair of running shoes. Trust me on that one.

Dr “Laced Up And Ready” Gerlich

A Cup At A Time

22 09 2012

I love my coffee. I have about half a pot in the morning before I leave the house. Once I get to school, I run downstairs and fill up my big travel tumbler. And if I get sleepy in the afternoon, I return for a refill.

I’m not hooked. I swear. Hey, did you hear that coffee is good for warding off cancer? I did. Maybe I dreamed it, but something this good can’t be bad for you.

I hope.

But one thing I have been able to do so far is avoid buying into the single-cup systems like those manufactured by Keurig. Yes, they are quite handy, and provide a decent cuppa joe. My hotel recently in Chicago had a Keurig in every room, and I grew fond of it quickly. As long as you don’t mind brewing and sipping in carefully measured (and small) quantities, Keurig is a nice addition to any domicile or workspace; the company has done rather well in recent years creating and catering to this market.

But they are rather expensive. Amazon sells the basic Keurig brewing system for $140. Individual coffees come out to about 70 cents per cup. With my addiction…I mean consumption habits…it would cost me about $5 a day for just basic coffee. Nothing fancy. No designer beverages like I see the students downstairs ordering. Straight up coffee. No additives. Just one slug after another from that wonderful mug, with refills downstairs only $1.03. And that’s with the tax. I guess that makes me a cheap junkie.

But when I saw this morning that Starbucks has decided to introduce its own single-serve system called Verismo, I instantly rose to full-awake status. How and why would someone try to enter an already established market, one in which only those willing to pay the price of convenience can be counted among the clients?

The marketer in me says that it might already be too late to squeeze any more out of this segment, because those who wanted one have probably already bought one. And if you already have the hardware, why would you buy another unless the first one is broken?

But SBUX has a huge advantage. With over 6000 stores in the US, it has more showroom space than anyone else in the coffeemaker business. Even with a heftier price tag ($199-$399, depending on model), Starbucks will have captive audiences when consumers stand in line for the morning pick-me-ups. Better yet, the margins on each cup of coffee brewed with SBUX’ single-serve packages will be huge. Think of the possibilities: sell fresh coffee while they’re in the store, and get them to take the rest home for consumption later on.

While SBUX will have to convince coffee aficionados to buy in to the system (and at a premium price), they are implicitly appealing to a select audience…one that really digs coffee to begin with, and for whom expense is not much of an issue.

Were this being introduced by anyone else, I would give it a hell-bound snowball’s chance of making it. But with the retail footprint these machines are going to get, I’d say the odds are strong this brew is going to come on strong. The coffee bean was ripe for picking, and Starbucks has brewed an enticing option.

Even if I am too cheap to get one myself.

Dr “Waiter, Waiter, Percolator” Gerlich

Bird Of A Different Feather

20 09 2012

These are very dangerous times. Social media have made it difficult to say anything without being berated, scorned, boycotted and belittled.

Or praised and feted. It all depends on which side of the issue you stand. Like the recent Chick-Fil-A (CFA) debacle regarding the company’s donations to groups that are anti-gay, as well as statements by the company President, Dan Cathy.

In July of this year, the nation was abuzz about Cathy’s comments about gays and gay marriage. The “A” word…abomination…was used. Lots of people got their feathers stirred up, both pro and con. A CFA Appreciation Day was held on 1st August; a response was staged by the “other side” shortly thereafter.

But now word has leaked that CFA may stop funding anti-gay groups, as well as no longer voice its views on the subject.

While various sources today can neither confirm nor deny if CFA will go through with this, even the possibility of it suggests that flip-flop season may not be over just yet. Can anyone say Susan G. Komen Foundation?

There are numerous issues at play simultaneously, including: (1) boycotting behavior of consumers; (2) free speech, both personal and corporate; (3) the blurring of personal and corporate speech; (4)oh, and sensitive subject matter.

Take boycotting behavior, for example. At what point do a shopper’s and company’s convictions and practices clash so much that they part ways? Or, stated differently, how much are we willing to overlook as shoppers? For example, I have long said that Walmart is the store that everyone hates, but shops there anyway. Never mind low wages, few benefits, mediocre selection and quality, and a store full of Chinese goods. The price is right for many.

And what about when a person speaks on behalf of a company? Sure, one could argue that CFA is private, and can do and say whatever it wants to. But what about the social contract? Do they not have an obligation to serve the public? To recognize that their corporate existence is still through the beneficience of federal, state and local governments? If you have been paying attention lately, you will know that Hobby Lobby is marching to a similar drummer, because they have filed a federal lawsuit protesting their obligations to the forthcoming ACA and coverage for the morning after pill.

I have no problem with individuals holding convictions, as well as acting on them. But even privately-owned companies need to tread carefully. It is hard to reconcile taking money from anyone and everyone, then turning around and condemning some of them. There is much to be said for not wearing your convictions on your sleeve, as well as not making it part of your corporate communication platform.

As for me, I seldom if ever boycott anyone except when I simply do not think I am receiving fair value in return for my dollar. If I were to take my vegetarian practice and try to impose it upon everyone else, I would have few friends (probably only other vegetarians). Nor would I be able to eat out in most places, since nearly every restaurant serves meat products. Could you imagine if I protested every restaurant because they served meat?


What it all boils down to is this: a little give and take. I am willing to overlook a lot, but companies must be willing to do the same. Hell, we have to live together. We’re not here long enough to justify squabbling over who is right and who is wrong; instead, let’s figure out how we can all come to the table of diversity. There’s plenty of empty chairs.

Dr “Pecking Order” Gerlich

Turn The Page

20 09 2012

There is a sneaky side to me that often only becomes apparent once I have played my cards. For example, I will often play devil&3039;s advocate in my classes, and argue something around the block, even if I do not believe it is the right route. It’s a good way of stimulating conversation.

Kind of like what I did yesterday when I presented the news about Kodak’s partnership with On Demand Books. On paper, it looks like a very good deal for both parties. It should enhance Kodak’s abilities to sell of its kiosks, it will add nicely to CVS’ product array by offering books, it eases inventory requirements in the channel, and it gives consumers broader access to tangible copies should they desire them.

Except for one thing: E-Reading is going through the roof.

The study linked above shows what many of us already know to be true: that while tangible books are still king, the incidence of reading on tablet devices is quickly gaining in popularity. Furthermore, those who read on tablets are heavy reader, consuming nearly twice as many books in a year as those who prefer paper.

The study shows that 29% of US adults own a tablet device. The only problem is that the study did not include devices like the iPad, which is a tablet by any description. A recent study that my colleagues and I did at WTAMU showed that 33% of our students own some kind of tablet. Either way, these devices are becoming increasingly popular, and they are changing the way that we read.

I have also read recent reports that tablet usage on airplanes now exceeds that of laptops. They are far more convenient to tote, and in many instances, can perform the same tasks as those of a laptop. On a recent flight from Chicago to Dallas on Southwest Airlines, I availed myself of the $5 wifi service in flight. It worked marvelously on my iPad. Oh, and for grins, I did a Facebook Check-In from 36,000 feet. I’m waiting to see if anyone else has found my “spot.”

But as tablets become ever more ubiquitous (just wait until this Christmas–they will be the hot gift item), we will consume ever more of our books in this format. It just makes sense. E-books are normally cheaper than their tangible counterparts, they are more portable, and, as your collection grows, never exceeds the size of the tablet itself.

You can start planning what you will do with all that extra space in your home.

Sure, the entire reading experience is transformed. No matter how authentic the software developers try to create a metaphor of turning pages, booking etc., it will never be quite the same as the real deal. While I love to lie down to read, and then slowly drift off into a nap with a book on my chest, I sure as heck know that I don’t want to awaken only to find my iPad had crashed to the floor. That’s an impact only a tangible book can withstand.

But if you compare the growth of my bookshelves items to the gigabytes on my iPad, you would know where I and how I am spending my money. I am reading more than ever before. I just make sure to put my iPad on the nightstand before drifting off.

Dr “Cover To Cover” Gerlich

Paperback Writer

20 09 2012

The last 20 years have not been kind to dinosaurs. While there’s still a market for vinyl records, photographic prints and books (among other things), the fact remains that we have gone digital and unless you can find your niche with the old school alternative, life support is only a choke and gasp away. Kind of like at Kodak, the company that invented the digital camera a few decades ago, and then politely sat on it. Once others reinvented that wheel, Kodak went into denial and thought that film photography would last forever.

Sure thing there, Ansel.

But every once in awhile Kodak hatches a good idea…like their partnership with On Demand Books to wrap Kodak’s photo kiosks around ODB’s Espresso Book printers. The married products will debut in CVS stores soon.

And it really is a great idea, because in this digital age, inventory of tangible goods becomes a huge risk. And never mind the competition from Amazon who sells both digital and print versions. Being a BAM retailer these days is simply not an enviable position.

But being able to sell paperback books on-demand in a BAM store is a great idea. No muss, no fuss. No inventory. Customer wants The Grapes Of Wrath? No problem. Insert credit card and watch it print, collate and bind your own audience-of-one book.

For that matter, the Espresso Book works great for limited edition books, which is a fancy way of saying “the book of our vacation pics.”

The only kink in the story is that Kodak has also put up for sale its kiosk division. Of course, one might quickly ask why Kodak would forge this relationship with ODB, but the answer is simple: this could easily make it easier for Kodak to unload yet another of its properties as it seeks to get its head back above water.

Whether Kodak will survive in the long-run is another story with great speculation. But as for being able to buy books…yea, thousands of possible titles…down at the corner drug store is appealing on many levels. OK, maybe not so appealing if you happen to be Barnes & Noble, but from the custoemr perspective, it is golden.

By the book? Yep. Buy the book.

Dr “Binding Agreement” Gerlich

Screen Saver

20 09 2012

It’s fun watching my 14 year-old watch TV. Well, actually, she’s not watching that much TV, if you sit down and watch her. What she’s really doing is juggling…TV, iPhone and iPad. She is busy interacting with three different screens.

And she is not alone. Digital natives can handle this task with ease. Then there are folks my age who have trouble figuring out the remote control.

Marketers and broadcasters, though, are very much aware of this multitasking. They are onto the fact that for many viewers, there are second and sometimes third screens involved. It is completely divided attention, but if this can be turned to the marketers’ advantage, there is much to be gained. And retained.

Which explains why NBC is going bonkers with its NBC Live initiative. A full slate of new Fall shows have companion sites on Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr. And NBC is doing everything it can to steer multitasking minds to those landing pages. It can work both during and after the show, but especially during.

Imagine getting real-time viewer comment while the show is airing. That kind of stuff is priceless. It’s called engagement. The more you can engage your viewers, customers, etc., the more likely you will be to retain them.

In the TV business, jobs are won and lost by number of eyeballs. Do whatever it takes to keep them glued.

More than anything, all of this activity by NBC in response to changing user habits shows that not only can and should a company be resilient, but that these viewing habits are for real. This is no aberration; if anything, it is only going to intensify. Even for oldtimers like yours truly, I know that watching TV is seldom a singular activity. I already have a problem sitting still long enough to watch a show (unless it’s Breaking Bad). My mind starts to wander, and pretty soon I find myself playing with my phone and iPad. Of course, I sleep with these two only a few inches away anyway, so it is pretty much now second nature to reach for them whenever my mind drifts.

Maybe I was born 40 years too early.

Within the context of today’s teens and young adults, NBC’s moves make perfect sense. In fact, it’s do or die. There are so choices available today, so many voices in the media landscape. That efforts to engage have escalated so dramatically is really no surprise. In fact, the real surprise will be seeing who doesn’t reach out. Anyone who digs in their heels and refuses to budge is bound to be left behind.

Now if I could figure out a way to put my talking head on one of my daughter’s gadgets. Maybe then I’ll be able to engage her in conversation.

Dr “The Big Screen” Gerlich